Monday, March 26, 2012

Further adventures in home-curing: Gravlax

Since my earlier blog post about making the Italian delicacy guanciale, I’ve had a few people dropping me notes about other projects in the area of home-curing of food. I’m sort of new to this and feeling my way forward. Currently we’re drying a piece of cured pork loin in the basement, what the Italians call lonzino, which is something I’ll write a piece on later next month if this project turns out well. So far, it looks and smells great.

One bit of curing we have done a number of times over the years, though, is making gravlax. This is cured salmon as done in the Scandinavian countries. It’s very easy, takes only a few days to cure, and the taste is out of this world.

You need no special equipment, no special technical skill, and have no background in charcuterie (which can get pretty complicated). As matter of fact, you don’t even need much skill in the kitchen. Even if you’re not a particularly good cook, you can handle this and impress the heck out of anyone you serve it to.

Gravlax is generally served as a first course. We serve it with honey mustard into which we’ve put some chopped dill, and maybe a wedge of lemon to squeeze over it. Toasted rye bread or pumpernickel is the usual accompaniment. Sweet gherkins or preserved crab apples are also nice, and once we even served it with leftover cranberry sauce!

Okay, let’s get to work. You are going to need fresh salmon, the best you can get, so you’ll need to find a good fish monger if you don’t already have one. Beware of fresh salmon you find at supermarket fish counters since it’s not often very fresh. Regardless of where you buy it, make sure it doesn’t have a strong “fishy” smell. That’s generally the mark of fish that isn’t fresh. You want salmon that smells of the sea. Wild caught salmon is best if you can get it. The flavor is much better.

The only other thing you want to have is good, fresh dill and lots of it. The fresh dill adds so much to this dish.

Serves 8-10

3 lb fresh salmon, center cut
1 large bunch of fresh dill
¼ cup coarse (Kosher) salt
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbs white peppercorns, crushed with a knife blade

1. Ask your fish monger to cut the piece of salmon in half lengthwise and to remove the backbone and the other small bones, as well. They should be happy to do this for you. If they aren’t, find another fish monger!

2. Back at home, place one piece of your fish skin side down in a glass, enamel or stainless steel baking dish or casserole (non-reactive).

3. Wash the dill carefully to make sure it has no grit, then dry it in a towel, and coarsely chop the dill.Thickly layer it on the fish – and I mean thickly!

4. In a separate bowl, combine the salt, sugar and peppercorns. Sprinkle this evenly over the dill. Top with the other half of the salmon, skin side up.

5. Cover the salmon container with plastic wrap and set something on it with a flat bottom that’s slightly larger than the piece of salmon, then weigh this down with several cans of food. (We use a small cutting board and couple of liter jars of our tomato sauce.)

6. Refrigerate for 2 or 3 days. Turn the fish over every 8-12 hours, basting it with the liquid marinade that accumulates. Turn the salmon-dill “sandwich” over, then separate the two pieces and with a baster or a spoon baste the inside with the marinade. Cover it again. Remember to replace the weights each time!

7. When the gravlax is finished, remove the fish from its marinade, scrape away the dill and seasonings and pat it dry with paper towels.

8. Place each piece of salmon, skin side down on a cutting board and slice them thinly on the diagonal, detaching each slice from the skin. Arrange it attractively, serve, and watch your guests enjoy this delicacy.


LisaG said...

Go the Blechta way on this one. Not the IKEA way!

HelenL said...

A nice rye bread, slice of onion, a few capers -- yummy!

Rick Blechta said...

You're right, Helen! How did I forget the onions??? That’s my favorite accompaniment. We use capers on smoked salmon rather than this more gentle cousin, though. But as always, maybe it deserves a second look...